Archive for the ‘jorge luis borges’ Tag

Hook or You’re Slung

I start a vast many books. But often at once. And it’s a small wonder when I get to the end of one.

For both bookstore browser and attention-deprived verbivore, the first paragraph is your blue Smartie. A tasty hook in the gob, attached to a few thousand reeling lines.

Short stories have to be particularly delicious with their opening gambit. Take the first paragraph of Donald Barthelme‘s ‘Me and Miss Mandible’:

Miss Mandible wants to make love to me but she hesitates because I am officially a child; I am, according to the records, according to the gradebooks on her desk, according to the card index in the principal’s office, eleven years old. There is a misconception here, one that I haven’t quite managed to get cleared up. I am in fact thirty-five, I’ve been in the Army, I am six feet one, I have hair in the appropriate places, my voice is a baritone, I know very well what to do with Miss Mandible if she ever makes up her mind.

Donald Barthelme, ‘Me and Miss Mandible’, Sixty Stories (available to browse on Google Books)

I’ve been reading Borges lately and get all kinds of excited in his first paragraphs. But he operates in a completely different way from Barthelme. He doesn’t hook. He’ll start you on one path whilst suggesting a myriad of alternatives. You need a ball of string to get out.

Then there’s this opening paragraph. One that made me read a novel cover-to-cover yesterday:

Not everybody knows how I killed old Phillip Mathers, smashing his jaw in with my spade; but first it is better to speak of my friendship with John Divney because it was he who first knocked old Mathers down by giving him a great blow in the neck with a special bicycle-pump which he manufactured himself out of a hollow iron bar. Divney was a strong civil man but he was lazy and idle-minded. He was personally responsible for the whole idea in the first place. It was he who told me to bring my spade. He was the one who gave orders on the occasion and also the explanations when they were required.

Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman

Completely contrary and utterly brilliant. O’Brien feigns to give away the plot but hooks you on the narrator. Who’s writing this?

And who wrote your favourite first paragraph?